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WHEN WAR MAKES SOLDIERS SICK


EIGHT IRAQ War veterans sat in a federal courtroom in Manhattan last week and demanded answers from the Pentagon and the White House about why and how they became sick. The men, most of them Hispanic, include former Army sergeants Ray Ramos, Agustín Matos and Jerry Ojeda and specialist Gerard Matthew, who is the lead plaintiff in a pioneering lawsuit that has exposed to the public how American soldiers have been endangered by one of the Pentagon's little-known favorite weapons - depleted uranium artillery...

[26822]



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WHEN WAR MAKES SOLDIERS SICK

JUAN GONZALEZ

September 19, 2006

EIGHT IRAQ War veterans sat in a federal courtroom in Manhattan last week and demanded answers from the Pentagon and the White House about why and how they became sick.

The men, most of them Hispanic, include former Army sergeants Ray Ramos, Agustín Matos and Jerry Ojeda and specialist Gerard Matthew, who is the lead plaintiff in a pioneering lawsuit that has exposed to the public how American soldiers have been endangered by one of the Pentagon's little-known favorite weapons - depleted uranium artillery.

As you might expect, the plaintiffs in this case are not easily intimidated. Several are street-hardened ex-New York city cops and correction officers. They all served in two National Guard units stationed into Iraq during the first months of the war.

I first met them in late 2003, in Fort Dix, N.J., following a tip that a bunch of returned soldiers were suffering from illnesses that Army doctors could not explain.

The men I met that day were furious at the way Army doctors were ignoring their persistent symptoms of blurred vision, migraine headaches, blackouts, fatigue, a burning sensation when they urinated as well as blood in their urine, and other ailments, all of which they said began while in Iraq.

A few months later the independent tests arranged by the New York Daily News indicated that four of nine in one National Guard unit, as well as Matthew, who served in another unit, had all been exposed to depleted uranium, probably from radioactive dust from exploded shells.

The Pentagon has used the low-level radioactive metal since the 1991 Persian Gulf War to harden artillery shells so they can penetrate enemy tanks.

My Daily News reports created a firestorm that reached Congress and received coverage around the world, especially when the men, who were then still on active duty, publicly accused military doctors of refusing to test them for depleted uranium, or losing or delaying their test results.

Since then, the Pentagon has tightened its testing procedures and some two dozen state legislatures have either passed or are considering bills to require testing for depleted uranium for troops returning from Iraq.

The lawsuit is the first to reach a courtroom from Iraq soldiers who claim they were harmed by the weapon.

In a two-hour hearing before Manhattan Federal Judge John Koeltl last week, lawyers for the former soldiers argued that the Army caused their illnesses when it violated its own safety protocols and exposed them to radioactive dust. Army doctors also covered up information about their exposures and failed to provide proper medical treatment, the lawyers claimed.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan, representing the Army, urged Koeltl to dismiss the lawsuit immediately.

A 1950 Supreme Court decision, commonly known as the Feres Doctrine, prohibits soldiers from suing the government for injuries "incident to [military] service," Cronan said.

As the government's lawyer spoke, Matthew sat with his wife, Janise, in a courtroom packed with supporters and quietly shook his head. Less than 10 months after Matthew returned from Iraq, his wife gave birth to a girl, Victoria.

Their baby was missing three fingers on one hand.

By his dogged questioning of both sides, it appeared that Koeltl was giving the soldiers' claims serious attention. He gave no hint how he might rule.

Juan Gonzalez, a columnist for the New York Daily News, speaks at a Latino leaders lunch tomorrow at the Union League Club sponsored by Al Dia newspaper in collaboration with the Philadelphia Daily News. Reservations required: 215-569-4666, ext. 136.


:: Article nr. 26822 sent on 20-sep-2006 05:42 ECT

www.uruknet.info?p=26822

Link: www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/opinion/15553206.htm



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